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 Post subject: Yoga and Public Schools
PostPosted: Fri Apr 03, 2015 11:35 pm 
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[Note: I originally posted this as part of the ongoing discussion in the same sex marriage thread, but I decided it was a bridge too far and needed a separate thread]

I was reading the daily opinions of California appellate courts (as I do as a matter of course in my work), and I came across a California Court of Appeal case decision that was filed today called Sedlock v. Baird. In this case, the plaintiffs are parents of two children who are students in the Encinitas Union School District. The defendants are the superintendent and five governing board members of the District. The Sedlocks alleged that the District's implementation of an Ashtanga yoga program as a component of its physical education curriculum violated various religious freedom provisions of the California Constitution and requested that the court enjoin the District from continuing to implement its yoga program and declare the program unconstitutional. The trial court ruled that the yoga program as implemented was secular in nature and therefore did not constitute an establishment of religion in violation of article I, section 4 of the California Constitution.

The Court of Appeal agreed, following the test devised by the U.S. Supreme Court in Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) 403 U.S. 602 which adopted a three-part test to determine whether a government practice violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. constitution. In order for a government program to be constitutional: (1) the government program must have "a secular legislative purpose"; (2) the program's "principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion"; and (3) the program "must not foster 'an excessive government entanglement with religion.' " The court reviewed the findings of the trial court and agreed that the primary purpose of the yoga program was to promote health, and not to promote Hinduism. As someone who does a regular yoga class for exactly that purpose, I applaud this ruling. At the same time, I have to wonder at parents that would be so threatened by the exposure of their children to any aspect of another culture, even on this limited basis.

The next (and last step) would be for the parents to petition the California Supreme Court to review this decision. Most such petitions are denied, but because this is an important subject and so far as I know one of first impression in California, they might grant the petition. However, it cannot be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court because they only argued that the California constitution was violated, not the U.S. Constitution (even though the same test applies).

After reading the case, I did a search and found a couple of interesting articles on the case from back when the trial court made its ruling. They are worth reading if you find the subject interesting.

Yes We Won and What We Lost: Sedlock vs. Baird Decision Allows Yoga in Public Schools

The Case Against Yoga: Sedlock v. Baird
Appellate Briefing Completed in Precedent-Setting Litigation Challenging Encinitas' Ashtanga Yoga Program (Sedlock v. Baird) (this one is from the organization that pursued the case on behalf of the parents)

Sedlock v. Baird: when is a religion not a religion?

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 05, 2015 6:49 pm 
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I think the first writer hit the nail on the head - how closely being American is tied to being White. As long as yoga poses don't have Sanskrit names, it is secular.

It reflects the same belief that Frelga brought forth - how these religious discrimination laws will fall down once they are used by non Christians to deny business to a Christian


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PostPosted: Sun Apr 05, 2015 10:33 pm 
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While I'm glad for the court ruling, the fact it even went to court is just depressing. Okay, yeah, Sanskrit sounds exotic to the Western ear but it takes a minimal amount of research to figure out what yoga actually is. If getting your mouth around the syllables makes you Hindu does, by that same logic, eating kosher food make you Jewish?

I wonder what those poor children are learning from their parents' "lawyer up first, ask questions later" approach to things that approach from outside their personal bubbles. I fear the attitude that brought the lawsuit might prove more harmful to the kids than the yoga ever could be.

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 06, 2015 2:05 am 
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Quote:
By that same logic, eating kosher food make you Jewish?


Don't ask questions like that if you don't want to hear monumentally stupid answers. Because I have family members who would happily give them.


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 06, 2015 2:15 am 
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Inanna wrote:
I think the first writer hit the nail on the head - how closely being American is tied to being White. As long as yoga poses don't have Sanskrit names, it is secular.


Even if they do have Sanskrit names, it is still secular. I think this doesn't really have anything to do with religion, per se. It is the fear of "other".

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 Post subject: Yoga and Public Schools
PostPosted: Mon Apr 06, 2015 11:05 pm 
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I agree V, the secular remark was a tongue in the cheek remark. And yes, it is fear of the "other"... it's similar to
How some Indians can react to... Rap (as one example)



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PostPosted: Thu Apr 16, 2015 1:49 pm 
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The first article states it's case well in the first two paragraphs, then goes off the rails in the third, confusing religion with culture. I don't know, but I doubt there has ever been a legal case brought against a school for teaching about Indian culture, per se. This didn't have to do with the parents objecting to their children learning about Indian culture, but with objections to their children being taught a physical discipline that has close connections to a particular religion/spirituality.

The discipline of yoga may have close connections to the Indian culture, but that wasn't the point of contention. It serves nothing to confuse these two issues. This isn't about being white in America, or being 'other'. The parents didn't object to their children being taught yoga because yoga originated in a country where people aren't white, but because yoga has spiritual, i.e., religious connotations.

The article asks, 'Can a person or an entity like yoga be Indian and still be American?' A person can be Indian and American, certainly, but asking the same question of yoga is nonsensical, in my view. Yoga is unarguably Indian, and is practiced by Americans in varying degrees of adaptation to an American/secular lifestyle. There's no white issue here. I would propose that people in general don't disassociate from the spiritual elements of yoga because they loathe the non-whiteness of the practice's originators, but probably in most cases because they aren't interested in or don't want to get involved in the spiritual aspect of the discipline.

The article says, "The fact is, relationships between yoga, religion and spirituality are complex, and certainly not able to be reduced to a, 'Yes, yoga is religious', or 'No, yoga is not religous' stance."

They then confuse the two issues again, "It is unfortunate that the race to protect the existence of yoga in American public schools created the need for an argument that requires a severing of cultural ties in exchange for integration." It isn't cultural ties that were pointedly severed, but religious ones. One can hardly blame the courts or the plaintiffs for the fact that, as the article itself states, "the relationships between yoga, religion and spirituality are complex." Nor should the courts or the plaintiffs be blamed for the fact that the founders of this nation prohibited Congress from passing any law that respects an establishment of religion, nor for the fact that that prohibition is parsed to the nth degree as we continue on our historical course.

I notice the picture with the article shows very young children. If there were some physical discipline connected with fundamentalist Christianity, that was taught in American Public school gyms to young children, I can imagine the squawking that would ensue from certain quarters. You can't legitimately acknowledge that a philosophy/discipline has practically inseparable ties from a religion/spirituality and then bemoan the fact that a country founded on laws, one of which keeps church and state obsessively separate, acts on that law and separates the two! To then go on and assert that they were separated because Indians aren't white is inexcusably careless and stupid, imo, as well as being really unhelpful.

Forgive me for saying that the reaction in this thread strikes me as typically knee-jerk, and shows not the slightest desire to understand the issue here. It's just been taken as another occasion to bash people you don't understand because they don't think like you.

The author of the second article cites a couple of the parental objections:

“They were being taught to thank the sun for their lives and the warmth that it brought, the life that it brought to the earth and they were told to do that right before they did their sun salutation exercises,” she says.

Yes, this would certainly bother a Christian parent of a certain ilk. We don't thank the sun, we thank God for the sun. I wouldn't want my young child being taught to thank the sun, either. As an adult, I can make my own choice about who/what to thank for the sun, but children should not be receiving spiritual direction in public school. Normally we all tend to agree on that if the direction is in any way related to Christianity.

"Those looked like religious teachings to her, so she opted to keep her son out of the classes. The more Eady reads about the Jois Foundation and its founders’ beliefs in the spiritual benefits of Ashtanga yoga, the more she’s convinced that the poses and meditation can’t be separated from their Hindu roots."

This is a perfectly reasonable conclusion to reach; it doesn't mean the person is an ignorant Neanderthal. The plaintiffs did a service to the district by bringing the suit, as it sounds as though it resulted in removing certain spiritual aspects from the instruction, which will allow the children to keep learning the physical aspects of yoga. Unless you are one who believes that the spiritual and physical benefits of yoga can't be separated, and believe that in fact, it's harmful to acquaint oneself with the physical aspects of yoga without the spiritual, or with the physical aspects of yoga apart from its cultural underpinnings, then I don't see what the problem is here.

This particular case is certainly not about being white in America. I understand that the writer of the article has legitimate concerns regarding being Indian in America, but that has nothing to do with why the yoga class was challenged in court, or with the court-led and correct decision to be careful of not insinuating spiritual aspects into a gym class for young children.

The last article sums it up very well, and I see I could have omitted writing this entire post had I simply quoted its last paragraph:

"But in this case, we shouldn’t be too hasty to side with anything-but-Christianity because anything-like-Christianity is barred by a century of Constitutional jurisprudence and by the wisdom of the secularists who founded this country."

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 16, 2015 3:39 pm 
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Cerin, I appreciate your thoughtful comments, coming as they do from a perspective very different than mine. I should note, however, that while I posted links to different articles to give different perspectives about the issue, the information contained in the links are not necessarily factually accurate. I should point out that the appellate court decision (which now can be read here) makes it clear that anything even remotely spiritual or religious was removed from the program in response to initial concerns. The children were not being asked to thank the sun, or anything similar to that, in the program actually being challenged by this case. In fact, part of the Sedwick's argument in the case was that the District being "excessively entangled" with religion by removing any part of the yoga program that could even conceivably be considered religious, in response to the kind of parental complaints you reference (an argument that the court rejected emphatically). The primary argument that the Sedwick's make is that since Yoga comes out of a religious tradition it ultimately promotes that religion, no matter how it has been adapted. Here is a sample from the Court of Appeal decision:

Quote:
For example, the Sedlocks maintain that because the District's yoga curriculum contains "character connections" built around quotations from famous people, the curriculum contains instruction on "yamas" (moral restraints) and "niyamas" (ethical observances). We think it clear that a reasonable observer would not view lessons built around the quotations mentioned in the text from famous persons such as the Reverend Jessie Jackson and Babe Ruth as instilling Ashtanga/Hindu teachings. [The Babe Ruth quote is "Every strike brings me closer to my next home run," for the subject of "Perseverance," and the Jessie Jackson quote on the subject of "Empathy": "Never look down on anybody unless you're helping them up."]

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 23, 2015 4:21 pm 
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I really don't want public schools teaching kids about the Force. It's an "ancient religion" and not appropriate at all as subject matter. And they might lose hands playing with the ceremonial weapons.

There really shouldn't be any Yoda in public schools.


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 23, 2015 4:26 pm 
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Oh, Yoga. Wait, really? Yoga is taught in public schools? I had no idea.

Do the kids have to wear yoga pants?

I don't think it should have needed to come down to a court case. I think it's a real *stretch* to call yoga religious in this context, whatever its origins. That said, I liked Cerin's post on the topic.


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